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Review of 'Queens Park Story' short film and tv commercials by Barney Cokeliss

What's the difference between mediocrity and something special? Often I can't figure out what is at first sight, but I want to see more. That was my reaction on seeing images by the photographer Barney Cokeliss. I stumbled across them unexpectedly - more details below - and from there went to his website www.barneycokeliss.com and discovered he also does commercials and short films, which have more of that indefinable quality, but what is it?

As I watched I noticed the following features starting to emerge: A vivid imaginitive sensibility, a mixture of fantasy and at the same time authenticity, use of atmospheric music, innovatigve special effects, an air of 'Englishness', whatever that is.

The first commercial 'Spoiled' is for Scottish NHS (Agency The Bridge) aims to encourage young people to take 'precautions'. But there is no message, no shocking imagery, no doom-laden pyramids, as in the infamous Aids campaign of the 80s. Just a young guy going about his day, thinking.

still from Spoiled

He is thinking about an encounter he had the previous night with a girl. He has flashbacks. With its rapid editing and subtle camera work, we get to see into his mind's eye. It captures that 'morning after' feeling, when afterglow turns into anxiety. The commercial lasts just 50 seconds and communicates much without really saying anything. The health promotion wording appears in small writing at the end.

Can the subtle, sublime approach with gentle music work with something as apparently mundane as supermarket products? In this case of the ad 'Numbers' (Agency BDH TBWA), the answer is yes. With a simple piano background, and 'Room With a View'-style cinematography, we see glimpses from the preparation of high quality food and drink products. Next to each one, in very small lettering, is the word 'reason' and then by use of special effects, a number takes shape. By the end we get a a subtle message, one normally shouted out loud or sung to a happy jingle. 'More reasons to shop at Morrisons'.

still from Reasons

Also very innovative and sophisticated in its use of special effects is another ad for NHS Scotland 'Smoke Snakes' (Agency: The Bridge), which warns about passive smoking. Smokers and non-smokers are presented in social situations to a backdrop of orchestral music. The plumes of smoke turn into sinister snakes which curl around the heads, hands and necks of people, including a baby. It's subtle and scary. A mini-horror movie prequel rolled into 50 seconds.

More ads from the portfolio can be seen on this page

It's amazing how the qualities of a full length feature film can be crammed into a 50 second commercial: Imaginitive, surreal, atmospheric: These are characteristics I love about films such as 'Walkabout', 'The Singing Ringing Tree', 'The Company of Wolves'.

They are certainly present in the short film by Barney Cokeliss 'Queens Park Story', which was commissioned by the BBC for the 10x10 series of short films, and was screened in 1998. It's a simple and idealised story of true love against the odds. A two-timing guy is thrown out by his girlfriend. Whilst working on the ice cream stand in a park - it's Queen's Park in London - his roving eye lands on another woman. She is a painter and has set up her easel in the park. He takes his chance, and through persuasion manages to woo her, but then he suffers a setback and all seems lost.

It's a kind of 'Notting Hill' in miniature, north London twenty-somethings with English accents falling in and out of love. But then something remarkable happens. The birds and animals in the park start to talk to him, providing better counselling services than any agony aunt, especially the owl. They advise him to stick with it. She challenges him to prove his love by not going away until she has finished her painting, which will take a week. He takes this literally and becomes rooted to the spot, in the middle of the park, for the next few days. As in the best fairy tales, a team of furry and feathered creatures provides logistical support.

To find out what happens in the end you will need to view the film, but suffice to say, this is about as far as you can get from 'Trainspotting'. It's a modern fairy tale of the city, and I love every minute. For me 'Queens Park' gives a magical edge to a place that many must take for granted, and I must now go and visit!

To view Queens Park and other work by Barney Cokeliss, go to his site www.barneycokeliss.com.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-05-21

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